By GISELA RUCKERT
MEL MAY CALL proportional representation an uninvited guest, but I’m laying out the welcome mat!
He is absolutely correct that it’s not a new concept and that it is once again a hot topic in the wake of two consecutive elections where the party that won the most votes didn’t win the most seats. (And Mel says pro rep is hard to figure out!)
2021 happens to be the 100-year anniversary of the first federal government elected on a promise to introduce proportional representation.
Not coincidentally, 1921 is also the year Canada began to have more than two political parties, which is what our current voting system was designed for.
Yes, proportional representation has indeed been “studied to death”, but it also benefits from a great deal of “lived experience”.
Most of the world adopted it over a century ago — it’s the most common family of democratic systems in the world. Over 90 countries use it: Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. are the notable outliers.
In most of the world, an election isn’t a horse race. The point is to create a decision-making body that represents all voters, not just the loudest voices in each riding.
Comparative academic studies show that countries using consensual-style governments enjoy better outcomes on health, education, environment and the economy. They also have greater voter satisfaction and higher voter turnout.
Happily, every Canadian assembly and commission ever to examine electoral reform has recommended that we switch to proportional representation. As polls confirm, Canadians like the idea of parties sharing power, policy stability that outlasts the electoral cycle, civil debate on policy options instead of personal attacks, and legislatures that mirror the diversity of the societies they serve.
All the proportional systems recommended by Fair Vote Canada would maintain local representation, allow voters to elect every politician by name (no party appointments, Mel), and provide voters with greater choice — often enabling them to choose among several candidates of the same party.
In contrast to the current system which exaggerates corrosive regionalism, proportional systems would ensure MPs from all the major parties get elected in all regions of the country – because that’s how Canadians actually vote.
Perhaps most importantly, the vast majority of voters would help elect an MP who shares their priorities, in contrast to the 52 per cent of “orphan” voters who cast ballots that elected no one in the most recent election.
So why don’t Canadians have proportional representation yet? Well, Justin Trudeau is just the latest in a long line of politicians starting with Mackenzie King who promised reform, then got elected, and promptly thought better of it.
It’s not surprising that politicians, having just been handed 100 per cent power with as little as 39 per cent voter support, are not eager to fix the problem. Having to share power or win the support of more than 50 per cent of voters is a major downer!
Studying the issue forever has proven a popular way to avoid implementing proportional representation, as has subjecting it to referendums plagued by misinformation. And here we are, 100 years later.
Mel and I could probably keep arguing about this for the next 100 years (we both seem to have pretty good stamina), but the good news is that we don’t actually need to. There’s a better way to decide whether or not our voting system should be reformed.
The key to breaking this log jam is for our leaders to show integrity, acknowledge their conflict of interest, and step aside. Ethically, they should hand the decision back to citizens — in a way that encourages informed, thoughtful debate and evidence-based decision-making, rather than partisanship and divisive polarization.
Deliberative, citizen-driven processes have been gaining steam around the world. Citizens’ assemblies are built on the belief that when given the knowledge, resources and time, a body of citizens can find solutions to complex and challenging issues where politicians have gotten stuck.
A randomly selected but demographically representative group of ordinary folks is equipped with the resources they need to develop in-depth understanding of an issue. They deliberate and come to consensus. Digital platforms make it possible for the rest of us to follow the proceedings of the assembly and even provide feedback at various stages, lending the process transparency.
Recommendations emerging from citizens’ assemblies are free of partisan interference and are seen as highly legitimate expressions of the popular will. They’ve been used around the world to find agreement on tough issues: in Germany (democracy), Australia (nuclear waste), France (climate change), and Ireland (abortion).
Citizens’ assemblies offer a credible path forward for the renewal of Canadian democracy. In a 2020 Leger poll, 80 per cent of Canadians supported a national citizens’ assembly on how the country votes.
If we want a solution that is genuinely in the common interest, we need to stop arguing and demand a process we can trust. We need to demand that our leaders establish a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.
Mel, I am willing to accept what my fellow citizens decide on this issue. Are you?
(Bonus: If the decision is handed over to our peers, you and I could stop this pointless arguing!)
Proudly unrepentant and unbowed, Gisela Ruckert.
Gisela Ruckert is a member of Fair Vote Kamloops.